With the influx of films shot cinema verite in the last decade since The Blair Witch Project scared the bejesus out of people worldwide (but not me, I think it's terrible), there haven't been many that have actually been good. Hollywood has tried its hand at capitalising on the style of photography with blockbusters like Cloverfield, which failed to impress me, as has the independent scene with George Romero's decent Diary of the Dead, and last year's horror sensation Paranormal Activity. Personally I've had it up to here with the films—there's far too many and most of them just don't work. My all-time favourite is still Cannibal Holocaust, the originator of horror verite, but as of seeing Exhibit A, it comes a pretty damn close second.
Apart from the fact that the disc I received was packaged in a very cool plastic bloodstained media bag as if from the police, I didn't expect much from the film. Quite frankly as soon as I saw how it was photographed, I was put right off, thinking it was just another found footage movie. Boy, I couldn't be happier to admit that I was utterly wrong.
The whole movie literally is Exhibit A—80+ minutes of footage recovered by the police from a house where a family was murdered, all captured on the teenage daughter's video camera for days leading up to the killings. Of course, it's only a movie, but the last 15 minutes present one of the most harrowing cinematic experiences of my life. As a self-professed horror addict, I've seen pretty much everything there is to see that could shock. Well, I thought I had. Not since the gripping French picture Inside/A L'Interieur have I been genuinely disturbed by a film.
Life couldn't get any better for the King family. So it seemed. The king of the household, as it were, has a promotion on the horizon and his wife and son have their sights set on a new home. His daughter, however, doesn't quite see it that way and wants more than anything to stay put. A major factor in her desire to stay in the house is her crush on the girl next door, which is a very interesting dynamic for a film of the genre to explore. With her camera she documents the literal rise and fall of the family, full of lies, deceit and the struggle of love, with the inanimate object being the only bearer of absolute truth in the entire household, capturing her father's almost Jekyll and Hyde mental transformation from everyday dad to hideous monster as a result of seemingly unforeseen financial circumstances.
The film opens with a screen that's supposed to have been inserted by the police to introduce the footage that's to come—a murder tape—complete with various numbers and general notes about the video evidence. It looks pretty authentic and it's a nice way to kick things off in retrospect, though at first in my trepidation I was shouting “gimmick” at my television. I was similarly phased by the first three minutes of footage that introduced the family; it came over so cornily that I just wanted to switch off, but as the story developed it became clear that what I was watching was almost real. It was an everyday family. The opening was silly and goofy because it was realistic, not because it was a poorly constructed scene.
Bradley Cole, who plays the morphing father, is really the stand-out star of the film. He plays the character so well, in both good and extremely bad lights. His performance is intense, dramatic and terrifying. Cole is exactly what makes the aforementioned climax so horribly disturbing.
The Raindance Best British Feature-winning Exhibit A is not about a bunch of wannabe film-makers with a cheap camera, it's a gripping compilation of home movies that detail days in the lives of an ordinary family gone horribly wrong, turning into the rawest and most unsettling of horror movies. An outstanding low-budget film that is as much of an independent triumph as it harrowing and shocking.
EXTRAS ★★ Making of feature, teaser trailers and rehearsal footage.